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Cold Case: As Journalists and Rights Activists Mark the Anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya's Death, Those Who Ordered her Killing Continue to Evade Justice

Demonstrator Mourners with Photo of Anna PolitkovskayaFive years to the day after the slaying of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, investigators named a fresh suspect and filed new charges against old suspects in the case; yet they stopped short of answering who ordered the killing. Though the case has inched one step closer to a successful prosecution, police seem to be a long way from yielding clear answers. October 7 marked the fifth anniversary of Politkovskaya's slaying in broad daylight outside her home in 2006. Since then, the case has formed a cornerstone of a number of different critical assessments about today's Russia: the dangerous working environment for Russian journalists, the weakness of the courts and law enforcement and, perhaps on a larger scale, the inability or unwillingness of the Putin regime to improve either.

But this year has seen some progress in the case. In May, police arrested the chief suspect and alleged shooter, Rustam Makhmudov, after he had spent several years hiding in Belgium. In August, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, former head of a police surveillance unit, was arrested over suspicions that he organized the killing for a fee. And now, investigators have nabbed Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, already serving a 12-year sentence for murder, whom they suspect of masterminding the entire operation. They have also brought new charges against Makhmudov's two brothers ­ Ibragim and Dzhabrail ­ and former Moscow police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, all of whom were acquitted in a 2009 trial but have recently been thrust back under the spotlight by the Supreme Court.

"New evidence has come to light in the investigation into the [Politkovskaya] murder," Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee, said during a visit to Berlin. "Gaitukayev received the order to kill Anna Politkovskaya in exchange for money." Though the news was most likely meant as a signal that some progress has been made, Markin said investigators are still attempting to determine who issued the actual order to kill Politkovskaya.

Observers, meanwhile, express doubts about the value of this evidence and note that it is unclear whether the fresh charges will hold water in court. Alexander Cherkasov, a board member at Memorial, said that while the current situation ­ in which Pavlyuchenko is now under the microscope ­ is an improvement, it's too early to judge the possible outcome. "I'm simply not ready, as I'm sure the jury isn't ready, to judge these developments without seeing solid evidence," he said.

The case has gained notoriety perhaps as much for its crusading victim as for its slow pace and the murky details which have sporadically surfaced. Some witnesses had testified in an earlier trial that they believed the suspects had ties to the FSB, Russia's state security apparatus. Then, however, the two Makhmudov brothers and Khadzikurbanov were acquitted by a Moscow jury in February 2009. Around the same time, human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and another Novaya Gazeta reporter, Anastasia Baburova, were murdered on the street, while activist Natalya Estemirova was found dead in Ingushetia in July 2009, prompting a fresh wave of anger about the impunity with which such killings are treated in Russia today.

The circumstances behind Politkovskaya's murder, moreover, have attracted additional speculation because the day of her death coincides with Putin's birthday. Analysts and casual observers alike have long suspected that higher political powers were behind the murder, given the reporter's hard-hitting and unforgiving reporting on state-sponsored corruption and human rights abuse in Chechnya. Among the more tense ­ and, perhaps, revealing ­ moments came when Putin dismissed her death only days afterward as "extremely insignificant" in Russia.

And though the new developments in the trial might be seen as positive steps, the rhetoric from the Kremlin has been less than encouraging. In a recent televised interview, Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, rejected the Kremlin's involvement in the murder, but offered little else in way of commentary or support. "Every time I hear this, I feel even more desire to go out, open the door wide and say: 'People, you are crazy to associate this with Putin!'" he said. "This is as crazy as when we read somewhere that the White House in Washington is behind 9/11."

International organizations have been among the most vocal in urging a speedier and more transparent trial. The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders are among those who warn that success is still a long way off in the quest for Politkovskaya's killer. "[T]his is clearly not the moment to cry victory," read a statement issued by Reporters Without Borders. "On the contrary, the need is greater than ever to redouble efforts and vigilance, to ensure that the official investigation does not stop after making progress, to ensure that it keeps going until all those who were ultimately responsible for this murder have been identified."

Russia, Assassinations -Russian News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

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